Purpose: To assess the safety of a licensed anthrax vaccine (AVA) given to more than 500,000 US military personnel, through review and medical evaluation of adverse events (AEs) reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
Methods: AEs were summarized by person, vaccine lot, type, frequency and impact. A Delphic approach was used to tentatively assess causality in an effort to detect serious AEs (SAEs) or other medically important AEs (OMIAEs) possibly attributable to AVA.
Results: The Anthrax Vaccine Expert Committee (AVEC) reviewed 1841 reports describing 3991 AEs (9.4 reports/10,000 doses of AVA) that were submitted to VAERS from 1Q1998 through 4Q2001. One hundred forty-seven reports described an SAE or OMIAE, of which 26 were tentatively rated as possible, probable or certain consequences of vaccination (injection-site reaction , 'anaphylactic-like reaction'  and eight other systemic AEs [1-2 each]).
Conclusions: This review produced no evidence for an unusual rate of any SAE or OMIAE attributable to AVA. It supported an earlier impression that AVA may cause significant local inflammation and should be administered over the deltoid rather than the triceps to avoid direct or compression injury to the ulnar nerve. The subjects of VAERS reports tended to be older than all recipients of AVA. Females generally had and/or reported AEs more often than males, but transient articular reactions were surprisingly more common in males. Variations in the frequency or severity (as judged by hospitalization and/or loss of duty) of reported AEs did not suggest a significant problem with (1) a particular lot of AVA, (2) recurrent AEs after multiple doses or (3) vaccination of persons with a concomitant illness or those given other vaccines or medications.
Copyright 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.